Notable Passings: Tata Madiba

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela: 18 July 1918 – 5 December 2013

I heard the sad, but expected, news late last night…Tata Madiba, known worldwide as Nelson Mandela, has shed his mortal cloak and gone to the ages. He passed away at his home in Johannesburg, South Africa, shortly before 19:00 GMT (21:00 local time). More from BBC News:

“South Africans have gathered in Johannesburg and Soweto to mourn their former leader, Nelson Mandela, who died on Thursday aged 95.

Mr Mandela had been receiving treatment at home for a recurring lung illness since September, when he was discharged from hospital.

As soon as the news of his death broke late on Thursday, small crowds began to gather in Soweto’s Vilakazi Street, where Mr Mandela lived in the 1940s and 1950s.

Crowds also gathered outside Mr Mandela’s current home, in Johannesburg’s northern suburb of Houghton, where he died. A stage has been erected there and speeches are being given and hymns sung.

President Zuma visited the house in the early afternoon to pay his respects.

Across the world, leaders, celebrities and members of the public have been paying tribute.”

Al-Jazeera had an interesting piece about him. Here’s an excerpt:

“Nelson Mandela will be celebrated primarily for the dignity with which he emerged onto the world stage after decades in prison and for the forgiveness that he displayed toward his former enemies in forging a democratic, multi-racial South Africa from the poisoned legacy of apartheid.

As a global statesman of grace and humility, he was long courted by Western leaders drawn by his irresistible story of triumph over tyranny. Yet Mandela, who died on Dec. 5 at age 95, was also a more radical and politically complex figure than has been commonly acknowledged by his admirers in the West.

As a young man he had close ties to the South African Communist Party and plotted an armed uprising inspired by Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution in Cuba.

For many who followed his life closely, that commitment to socialist values and instinctive solidarity with those he saw as fellow strugglers against oppression, colonialism and imperialism continued to burn strongly even in the years after his release from prison and the end of apartheid.

“He came out of prison a senior statesman in waiting. He went into prison as a militant revolutionary leader,” Peter Hain, a veteran anti-apartheid campaigner and friend of Mandela’s, said.

“He was seen as a burly freedom fighter, learning how to shoot in Ethiopia and traveling to revolutionary Algeria and other countries while he was underground. We must never forget he was a freedom fighter.”

A great fighter, indeed. His spirit was never broken during his unjustified 27-year imprisonment; he maintained the drive, dedication, and determination necessary to emerge from that cell to become one of the greatest leaders of all time. More from the Huffington Post:

“The thing about Nelson Mandela was that he made the rest of us want to be almost as noble as he.

Imprisoned for 27 years, the anti-apartheid leader who had declared at his 1964 trial that he was willing to die for his beliefs in human dignity and racial equality emerged from that experience not filled with hatred, but courtly, magnanimous, humble and good-humored.

His very demeanor served as the rebuttal to all those who peddled fear and foretold disaster and bloodshed should black South Africans get the vote and take power in Pretoria.

It is easy to forget what a seething cauldron South Africa had become by the early 1990s as part of its white minority struggled to hang on to the three centuries of privilege made possible by apartheid. I remember it vividly while covering the country’s democratic transition as AP’s southern Africa bureau chief in Johannesburg in the mid-1990s.

Khaki-clad farmers with pistols at their side were setting off bombs and pledging never to submit to majority rule. The townships with their shantytown poverty were ablaze with guns and violence as ANC activists and backers of the government-encouraged and Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party fought with terrifying ferocity. In Guguletu, outside Cape Town, a young American Fulbright scholar Amy Biehl was chased down and killed by a mob of youths shouting racial taunts of “Kill the farmer.” An anti-apartheid Communist leader, Chris Hani, was gunned down and killed by a right-wing Polish immigrant.

The nation felt like a tinderbox, a stage set for a bloodbath.

But what Mandela ushered into history instead was his profound regard for the rights of all South Africans to claim a share of the national patrimony. It was a point he boldly made on almost every public occasion, whether to householders in the white and affluent Johannesburg suburb of Houghton or on a stage thrown up at a dilapidated football stadium crammed to the rafters with township dwellers clamoring for economic justice.

Through tedious and patient negotiations over several years after his release from prison, the framework was set for the country’s first all-race elections in April 1994, even though almost until the last minute it was not clear that all the conflicting parties would participate. When the day finally dawned cold and clear, South Africans saw themselves as the rainbow nation they really were. More than 22 million people voted, their lines snaking over the verdant green hills, and it was evident to the majority that they were now, at last, full citizens in the land of their birth.”

I was still in middle school when I watched his ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ on the news. Such a powerful presence! I was amazed at the fact that he’d been in prison longer than I’d been alive; my fiancée hadn’t even been born at the time Madiba was imprisoned. To emerge with such dignity, grace, and good humour was a fantastic testament to this great, legendary gentleman.

Rest easy, Madiba. Your legacy will last through eternity.

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